Forced rhubarb tickles me pink. I love the thought of producers coaching and cajoling the rhubarb to make an appearance in the late winter months, a season certainly not known for its rich pickings or abundant crops.
Then there's the harvesting of the long, thick barbie-pink stalks in the flickering candlelight. To accompany this positively romantic setting do they play the rhubarb a little Lionel Richie, Etta James or Righteous Brothers in encouragement? 'Hello! Is it me that you're looking for' etc?
Interestingly, the first forced rhubarb was apparently a mistake. Like a lot of inventions really, see also: Corn Flakes, Crisps and Champagne. Around one hundred years ago, distracted workmen at the Chelsea Physics Garden left an upturned bucket over a crop of plants and returned to find, fiercely searching for light to photosynthesise, extraordinarily flavoured, sweet, tender rhubarb. This soon became a widely copied technique, none more so these days in the 'rhubarb triangle' of Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell in Yorkshire. A little like the enigma of the Bermuda Triangle, mysteries abound in the 'forcing sheds' of the rhubarb triangle. Little is known about the origins of rhubarb growing in the region and even the exact location of the triangle is hotly contested.
In these puddings, the sweet, soft sponge offsets the tart rhubarb with the addition of the ginger providing a little welcome heat on a cool Spring day.
Rhubarb and Stem Ginger Steamed Puddings
Makes six individual puddings
For the rhubarb:
300g rhubarb, cut into 1-2 cm chunks
1 tbsp caster sugar
125g softened unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
175g self raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground ginger
2 stem ginger balls, finely chopped, plus 1 tbsp stem ginger syrup
Crystallised ginger to decorate (optional)
1. Grease six individual metal pudding moulds and line the bottoms with a small circle of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
2. Place the rhubarb and 1 tbsp caster sugar in a small pan and cook over a gentle heat for five minutes, carefully stirring until just softened
3. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs until combined and then fold in the flour and ground ginger. Stir in the chopped stem ginger balls and syrup
4. Divide the rhubarb between the six moulds and spoon the sponge mixture on top, filling each mould three quarters full. Cover each mould with foil. Place the moulds in a deep roasting tray and pour hot water in to the tray to half way up the side of the moulds. Transfer the puddings to the oven and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until springy to touch. Serve warm.
- Pouring the hot water into the roasting tray and transferring to the oven for some of us clumsy cooks is a recipe for an accident; when I remember I always try and pour the water around the moulds once the tray is safely in the oven
- These have a super fiery ginger bite to them; do halve the quantity of stem ginger if you'd prefer a more mellow pud
- Forced rhubarb is in season between January and March with outdoor crops ready to harvest just a few weeks later. Rhubarb has many health benefits: it hastens metabolism, has a high calcium content and, back in the day, was used for medicinal purposes, including liver, lung and stomach complaints.